It was the same year that Thomas Babington Macaulay, the British Secretary to the Board of Control, departed for England, leaving behind his famous ‘Minute in Education’ on reforming education in India. Later in life, education was to become a core area of interest for Jamsetji Tata’s philanthropic initiatives.
Jamsetji had studied the working of textile mills closely on a visit to England while assisting his father in the cotton trading business.
William Blake, the famous English poet and painter had noted that mills in Lancashire in England extracted 14 to 16 hours of work a day from mill workers, unconcerned about their wellbeing. “Jamsetji, was a century ahead of his times ensuring the welfare of his workforce,’’ said a feature story on the Tata Group founder’s 150th anniversary in March, 1989.
Lord Reay’s speech ‘calling for real universities’ had an indelible impact on Jamsetji, who in later years donated half his fortune to build a university.
The first JN Tata scholar, Freny K.R. Cama was sent to Edinburgh for advanced studies in medicine. Other luminaries who were also JN Tata scholars include:
Jamsetji envisaged the university to be a seat of learning and research for engineering, physics, and all branches of chemistry, as also a centre of Indian history and archaeology research and a centre of advanced statistics and philology.
In a letter to his son Dorabji, Jamsetji wrote, ‘Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick-growing variety. Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks. Earmark areas for Hindu temples, Mohammedan mosques and Christian churches.’
While presenting his plans to the Collector of Thane, Jamsetji wrote that, ‘The chief advantage I am looking forward to is the improvement in the health of Bombay consequent on the reclamation of drowned lands, the malarial exhalations from which are at present carried to Bombay island by the north wind.’
A leading British run hotel, the Majestic did not allow Indians inside. Jamsetji had taken one of his foreign guests to the hotel but was denied entry and had to go somewhere else to eat. This prompted the rise of the opulence that we know as the Taj Mahal Hotel.
In Jamsetji’s obituary, the British Editor of The Times of India wrote, ‘...his sturdy strength of character prevented him from fawning on any man, however great, for he was great in his own way, greater than most people realised. He sought no honour, he claimed no privilege, but the advancement of India and her myriad peoples were with him an abiding passion.’